Believe it or not, restaurant workers have a quit rate of 5.7%, more than double the quit rate of other businesses. The level of stress on your service staff is intense.
But, as restaurant owners, how do you address this event, better known as "The Great Resignation?"
Below, we have seven methods you can follow to increase your restaurant worker retention rate. But first, a bit of background.
What is the great resignation?
The Great Resignation, often called "the Big Quit," is the collective resignation of about four million Americans from their jobs. These resignation rates are highest among those in the middle of their career and affect entry-level restaurant positions.
A big part of finding out how to prevent this worker exodus comes down to understanding the "why."
Why is the great resignation happening?
The Great Resignation is not limited to employees demanding higher wages or more beanbag chairs. Instead, the Big Quit is primarily coming from the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Members of the service industry had to choose between exposure and payments. The global Pandemic significantly increased stress levels, especially for families with immunocompromised members.
The additional time and financial struggle strained people's mental health with extra worry. However, the Pandemic gave people time to think about their position in life. Many of them came to the same conclusion: they hate their job.
With all the stress, workers have become fed up with the effort they put into someone else's business and feel they deserve a more significant piece of the pie.
It isn't a new emotion. However, the extra stress and time workers received emboldened their approach. Many pursued alternative positions or took up freelancing gigs.
Companies like Doordash and Uber Eats reaped the benefits from people fed up with their bosses and looking for a "be your own boss" kind of gig. Despite more food delivery taking place, restaurant owners took a significant hit.
How is the great resignation impacting restaurants?
During the Pandemic, you had to comply with federal and state mandates on closing down your lobby. If you run a sit-down restaurant, this means a good portion of your clientele is suddenly gone. This situation led to staffing cuts for many owners, reducing hours heavily until the time came for them to return.
Many of those workers didn't return, finding the "grass is always greener" mentality proving true. These former employees found better positions in areas they were more passionate about.
Job openings in food services increased from 1.16 to 1.25 million, creating a massive "worker shortage." However, the labor wasn't short; employees' renewed expectations on what they wanted from employment had just grown higher.
How can restaurant owners combat the great resignation?
Many business owners have taken to social media, blaming the consumer for wanting too much. Venting like this might give restaurateurs some short-term satisfaction, but complaining does not solve the problem.
While it can be frustrating to deal with some workers, nobody says you need to upend your business model. However, adapting is what excellent business owners do best. Here are seven adapting tips you can use to help combat The Great Resignation:
1 - Understand why they are leaving.
When you look into your restaurant, it's easier to blame external factors for why people are leaving. Instead, it would be best to focus on what you can control. Here are some common reasons people aren't coming back:
- More than half of employees suffering from staff or customer abuse
- Hourly wages going up in other entry-level positions
- Disagreements when enforcing mask mandates or proof of vaccination
- Massive gatekeeping efforts by your management team (i.e., only promoting friends)
You can also argue that increased unemployment benefits are a factor. However, this is an unhealthy approach, as it returns to blaming external factors.
While you can (and should) work within your political system to address areas of concern, it doesn't change the conditions within your restaurant. Adapting by changing your approach is the only consistent, proven way to retain employees.
2 - Provide fantastic working conditions.
If you want to prevent your employees from leaving, you have to make your restaurant worth staying in. The better employee conditions are, the less likely people will consider alternative employment. Here are some ways you can do this:
- Have excellent employee benefits
- Ensure staff duties are specific and offer small raises for additional duties
- Have a policy for how to deal with demanding customers that favors your employees
- Always ensure you have ample staffing to provide for breaks
- Take employee concerns seriously
For a great (albeit dramatic) example of this, take a look at almost any episode of Bar Rescue. While being somewhat fabricated, one episode will provide you with everything you need to know about seeing when things have gone a bit too far.
Disrespectful owners calling their staff "lazy" or referring to their positions as "unskilled labor" are two examples of what not to do. When you disrespect the post, you reduce your chances of getting that five-star employee you want.
3 - Offer flexible schedules and instant payments.
Flexibility is critical with the growing popularity of side hustles (more than half of people currently have a side hustle). Combined with the expectation of instant payments, this marks a significant change for the current generation. Offering both will help you remain competitive as an owner. Here's how:
About 10 or 20 years ago, you found schedules on a poster board in the back of a restaurant. Employees read their work times, grumbling about management who (once again) didn't accommodate for their college classes.
Gone are the days when people want that simple nine-to-five environment. Instead, flexible scheduling solves many of these problems, offering solutions for your core staff and building more flexible members around them.
Surveys prove this further, with almost 25% of employees defining flexibility as a top priority. While not everyone wants it, most employees want the flexibility to diversify their off-job pursuits.
However, having flexible schedules can increase management's workload, especially if they need to do a shift swap. Restaurant scheduling software will save your business time, allowing management to focus on efficient day-to-day operations.
Restaurant and bar owners have to struggle to manage who gets what tips. Our cashless society (partially expedited by the global epidemic) has led to sudden changes in tip management.
Some managers use the "split the tip between staff" option. However, the Arkansas example of one lucky waitress receiving a $4,400 tip shows that this can backfire.
Instead, you should leave these tips alone, creating automated tracking systems provided by some restaurant payroll software solutions. Employees demand instant, trackable, automatic payments to their pockets. Much of this comes from changes in modern technology, which you need to keep up with.
4 - Use HR software to solve hiring and retention challenges.
The Great Resignation has shown us that retention and hiring both need automated features. The ability to automate HR processes can simplify these processes:
The new age of HR should simplify the process. In many cases, this involves the automated and simple signing of forms, clarification of job descriptions, and affirmation of duties.
While there will always be questions, having a regularly accessible resource that answers the most common ones will help. Once again, this saves time and frustration for both managers and employees, saving them the need to explain issues.
And when you get "that's not in my job description," you can simply refer the person back to training videos. You can also use this information to see if you can improve anything in your onboarding process for clarification purposes.
5 - Take their input.
A big part of employee satisfaction comes back to addressing burnout and improving workplace wellbeing. The "wellbeing" aspect includes improving mental health, financial security, and encouraging healthy relationships. Understanding what you need to do comes from a simple step: asking.
However, The Great Resignation reminds us that these factors aren't just limited to the business. As an owner, you are in a unique position to take their input across various needs.
For example, many new employees struggle with where to go when their superiors abuse them. By having a system of checks and balances in place, you empower your employees to submit transparent and honest feedback. In looking for trends, you might find that your managers are gatekeeping positions in favour of their friends, creating an unhealthy environment.
You can decide to extend this help outside of the workplace as well. Inquiring about interest in EAPs (Employee Assistance Programs) is a great way for you to help at home. EAPs can help by providing free financial assistance, counselling sessions, and other resources.
By building your business resources for your employees, you will make them feel more welcome. This will increase your retention rate.
6 - Take steps to reduce burnout.
Another considerable element of The Great Resignation is burnout. Personally, I find the fuel-based definition of burnout is perfect here:
"The reduction of a fuel or substance to nothing through the use of combustion."
American society tends to glorify people who reach this stage. You go until nothing is in the tank and try and try to get a few more miles out of the fumes.
However, when you are running on fumes (no energy), you run into the following issues:
- You make quick judgments based on incomplete information
- You snap at people
- Relationships you cultivate suffer as a result
- The effort you put into things gets undone due to missed problems
Reaching burnout isn't a fun experience. Your employees are experiencing it at a higher rate because of significant amounts of stress. You will begin to share it if your staff gets cut in half.
Addressing burnout starts with the steps above. Improving working conditions by ensuring breaks are observed is a start. However, you can also address staff shortages through interim employees.
Contracted employees are temporary employees who lack the same burnout as the rest of your staff. Whether you want to hire a quick line cook or laborer, utilizing your limited staff's kitchen and service skills is a must.
7 - Make career paths clear and attainable.
Another big part of addressing burnout comes to this most crucial element: increasing employee engagement. One of the best ways to increase employee engagement is by boosting job responsibility and autonomy.
You might think that giving overworked staff more to do will overwhelm them. However, if a portion of your staff is doing too much or you don't have enough employees, reducing stress is your responsibility.
In this case, you want to give people a transparent and obtainable path to management, training, or franchise ownership. Ambitious, young members of all generations are hungry for opportunities left wide open after "The Great Resignation".
If your employees see a clear path to advancement (universally applied to all in the same ways), you encourage healthy competition. Using data-driven elements like order times, customer satisfaction, and technical understanding will ensure employee development isn't left to management favouritism. Instead, you can choose based on both data and people-driven factors.
What does the future hold?
When it comes to looking into the future,"The Great Resignation" has reminded us of the importance of listening to our employees. As owners, we cannot understate this, as we often forget that there is a living, breathing wealth of information and experience within our staff.
In many cases, some of your staff members have been in the restaurant business for decades. These people know how to put out excellent customer service, so you would do well to listen to frontline employees.
This doesn't mean you should be expected to move heaven and earth for overly needy people who provide no value to your business. Creating an environment that breeds success will point these people out.
"The Great Resignation" reminds us that building the foundation of our businesses will also be the best available option. Our team at Push Operations also recognizes this, which is why we created technology to help automate and simplify many of the issues that overwhelm your restaurant staff, enabling them to focus on providing a fantastic customer experience.